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Bollywood Cancels IIFA Awards As Covid-19 Cases Continues To Increase In India

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IIFABollywood has postponed the IIFA awards due to the deadly coronavirus outbreak. Organisers said they had to postpone the IIFA awards ceremony which was to be held in Indore on March 27 due to mounting health crisis.

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Organisers said that the decision to call off IIFA awards was taken “with due regard to growing concerns” around the spread of COVID-19, while keeping the health and safety of fans and the general community. “A fresh date and plans for hosting IIFA in Madhya Pradesh will be announced at the earliest,” it added.

After using venues in several countries and other Indian cities, the 2019 IIFA returned to the Bollywood capital in Mumbai.  But the government has warned against holding mass gatherings because of the virus, which has infected 30 people in India so far. Many conferences, celebrations for Holi and public events have been cancelled in recent days.

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Meanwhile,  three more positive cases of novel coronavirus have been reported in India taking the total number of confirmed cases to 34, Union Health Ministry said according to the PTI.

Of the three, two are from Ladakh with travel history to Iran while one is from Tamil Nadu who had visited Oman, the ministry said, adding all the patients are stable. In the wake of more than 30 confirmed cases of coronavirus in India so far, the Union health ministry made 52 laboratories functional for testing samples while 57 labs are designated for helping in sample collection.

The ministry also said more than 150 people, who had come in contact with two US nationals who tested positive for coronavirus in Bhutan and had toured various placed in India, have been put under Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme.

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PM Modi reviewed the coronavirus situation in the country at a meeting with officials and directed them to identify locations for sufficient quarantine facilities, and make provisions for critical care in case the disease spreads further.

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Food and Travel

Himalayan Pink Salt – Indian or Pakistani?

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Himalayan salt or rock salt (halite) mined from the Punjab region of modern Pakistan, has caught the world attention after netizens from both India and Pakistan have been disputing over its ownership.

Its origin has now become a political issue. The rock salt is estimated to have formed hundreds of millions of years ago when ancient bodies of water evaporated; it is mostly mined from the Khewra Salt Mine in the foothills of the Salt Range in Jhelum, in the Pakistani province of Punjab.

Pakistan till now had been exporting the salt, not as a priced product. However, since a few months, it gained political attention in Pakistan due to a story broadcasted all over social media claiming the salt as “made in India”. Pakistani Twitter was furious: the salt cannot have been “made” in India when it was bought from Pakistan.

Even though the Khewra Salt Mine is the world’s second-largest, Pakistan is not among the world’s top 10 salt exporters; instead, neighbouring India and China are 7th and 9th respectively. Nearly 30 per cent of global demand for salt is from China.

Pakistani salt, which is 99 per cent halite and far purer than other varieties, should be feeding this demand. However, instead of refining this salt and maximising its exclusive value, Pakistan exports it cheaply in rock form.

The salt is pink because it contains trace minerals including iron. It retains more natural properties than table salt, as it is naturally harvested, manually extracted, minimally processed and free of artificial additives. The product is from ancient oceans and deserves a slick marketing campaign. Not only that, the Khewra Salt Mine is a worthy tourist attraction due to its historical links.

The mines are spread across an area of 110 sq km, with tunnels running half a mile into a mountain. In addition, the mines are offering therapy to people with asthma or respiratory problems. Pakistan’s salt exports grew from US$15.8 million in 2014 to US$51.6 million in 2018, according to official statistics.

Pakistani politicians took notice of the news spreading around. Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak suggested filing a patent on pink salt to make sure it is sold with Pakistan’s name, not India’s, on it. Shibli Faraz, leader of the Senate and a member of the Standing Committee on Commerce and Textile, called pink salt a “unique product”; he repeatedly raised the issue in parliament and pressed for legislation for Pakistan to trademark pink salt.

The pink salt should be accorded the rights of “geographical indications” protected by the World Intellectual Property Organisation so that illegal branding can be dealt with. According to market forecasts, global salt consumption will hit 335 million tonnes by 2020, and the global salt industry will be worth US$14.1 billion.

With an output of 325,000 tonnes per year and another 350 years to go, the Khewra mines are a virtual treasure trove. Pakistan must capitalise on them and capture markets around the world to achieve greater gains.

Much of the Himalayan pink salt consumed across the globe comes from Pakistan. But against the backdrop of tense relations with neighbouring India, the rock salt has become a matter of national pride and sovereignty. Rather than selling the raw material at cheap rates to China and India, Islamabad should boost exports of pink salt to the West.

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Malaysia, Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh Feel The Heat After India Banned Onion Exports

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Commonly used as a flavouring or side dish, onions are a staple food in many cuisines. Globally, 84,758,191 tons of onions are produced every year and India ranks second in the list of top producers of onions around the world.

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The Indian government in September banned exports of onions and imposed countrywide stock limits on the vegetable with immediate effect to bring down its prices following retail onion prices touching ₹80 in parts of the country due to supply disruptions after floods in some states.

The government had initially imposed a minimum export price of $850 per tonne on onions on 13 September, but consumer affairs secretary A.K. Srivastava complained to the commerce ministry that export are continuing unabated following which the DGFT banned exports.

India’s ban on export of onions due to soaring domestic price of the essential kitchen ingredient has become an irritant in bilateral trade relationship with its neighbours. India’s onion exports fell 10.7% to $154.5 million in April-July from a year ago.

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Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates were the top importers of onion from India during this period.

Shorter shipment times than from rival exporters like China or Egypt play a crucial role in preserving the taste of the perishable commodity. Since India banned the export of onions, countries such as Bangladesh have turned to the likes of Myanmar, Egypt, Turkey and China to increase supplies in a bid to bring prices down.

India exported 2.2 million tonnes of fresh onions in the 2018-19 fiscal year ended March 31, according to data from India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority. That’s more than half of all imports by Asian countries, traders estimate.

Last month, Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi urged the government of India to lift the ban on onion export to neighbouring country. Munshi stated Bangladesh is heavily dependent on India for onion and is now importing from Turkey, Myanmar and Egypt to meet the requirement of onion in the country.

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“We are short of 6 lakh tonnes of onion annually and India provides 80 percent of this shortage. Presently we are cooking food without Onion.”

Munshi said that India stopped export of onion one and half month back without prior information and this has caused difficulties in Bangladesh. Onions now are being sold for a Record High Rs 220 in Bangladesh after India banned exports.

Bangladesh produced more than 2.33 million metric tons of onions from 2018-2019 (July-June); however, the market demand is 3.6 million metric tons. The country imports onions to cover this shortage from neighbouring India which produces almost one-fourth of the world’s onions.

Despite repeated requests from Bangladesh, India did not withdraw the ban and there is an indication that the ban may last a few more months.

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However, to worsen the situation, an Indian government official stated: “India may keep a ban on onion exports until February because domestic prices have risen after the harvest of summer-sown crops, which were expected to augment supplies, was delayed and damaged by untimely rains.”

“We will think about resuming exports once prices come down. Right now it is not possible,” a senior government official at the Indian Department of Consumer Affairs said on Monday.

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Economy

How Apple Trade Took A Hit In The Kashmir Valley After The Revocation Of Article 370?

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Nearly 75 per cent of apples exported by India are grown in Kashmir. Apple trade provides oxygen to the Kashmir’s economy, involving 3.5 million people, around half the population of the region. The Rs 8,000 crore business supports 33 lakh people, which is 47 per cent of the total population in Kashmir.

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This includes seven lakh apple growers and their families, transporters, packagers, fertiliser & chemical sellers, commission agents, retail fruit sellers, and labourers who work in apple orchards.

The Modi Government’s decision that dramatically abolished Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status, has cut transport links with buyers in India and abroad, fruit growers and traders, plunging the apple trade in Kashmir in a turmoil.

The government sold the move of revoking Article 370 as a way to spur growth by integrating the state with the rest of India. But, for now, the unrest that has come in the wake of his government’s action has upended the economy, further fuelling resentment in the Muslim-majority territory where an armed revolt against India rule has continued since 30 years.

In the wake of the situation, the government decided to buy 12 out of 20 metric tons of apple directly from the farmers under Market Intervention Scheme (MIS). Jammu and Kashmir Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal said in a recent press conference that the government, on September 10, has taken the step to ease the troubles faced by the apple farmers. Kansal said, “If any farmer doesn’t want to sell his crop to the government he is free to do so.”

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However, the government intervention was also spurred by the attack on four apple growers, including a two-year-old girl, by suspected militants in Sopore for not observing the shutdown against the revocation of Article 370 and 35 A.

Under the umbrella of MIS, the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) decided to buy apple directly from the farmers and deposit the money in their bank accounts within 24 hours.

The NAFED would be assisted in registering the farmers, grading their crop and crediting the money into their accounts by J&K Department of Horticulture, Marketing and Planning (J&KDHMP). The farmers will have to bring their crop to four government-designated markets. According to the report, around 170 farmers registered themselves till September 15.

The localities have a varied response to this initiative by the government. Bashir Ahmed, an apple exporter said that in Sopore alone apple farmers have taken Rs 2,000 crore as advance from buyers outside Kashmir. “Can they sell their crop to the government,’’ Ahmed asked.

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Ahmed went add to say – “We used to earn some profit, that isn’t possible now,’’ he added. “The same goes for buyers outside Kashmir who have given huge advances.”

However, Ghulam Mohiuddin, a grower in Sopore, said he was happy with the government decision. “We are not getting the best price, but we are saved from the deliberate rate fluctuations in the markets in Delhi and elsewhere. The buyers used to lend us money in advance but when the fruit would hit the markets in Delhi and elsewhere, the prices would abruptly fall causing losses to us.’’

Before this, MIS was limited to buying only grade C apple of different varieties whose extracts are used for making juices and jams. An officer of J&KDHMP stated one reason for the muted response so far to MIS is because the open market prices are better.

The government has fixed Rs 53 per kg for grade A and Rs 37 for grade B without packing for Delicious variety and Rs 54 and Rs 38 with wood and cardboard packing for the same. The American variety has been offered Rs 48, Rs 32 and Rs 18 for grade A, B and C respectively.

For grade A, B and C of Mahraji variety, the prices have been fixed at Rs 40, 25 and 19 respectively with packing. There is a good possibility that more buyers would sell their crop to the government because of the prevailing situation.

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The impact of the clampdown and communication blockade has resulted in a havoc on the apple industry that compared to 1,100 trucks that used to leave the market every day after the beginning of the harvest season in September to different parts of India have been reduced to 30 to 40 trucks a day.

Ahmed said “We could still have managed respectable numbers if the police and other forces had allowed the market to function after 6 pm. Even during the uprising in 2016, this market remained open without any hassle.’’

The situation in South Kashmir’s Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam is equally unfavourable for the farmers. The fear of being targeted by militants for not abstaining from work due to shutdown is more palpable in the South Kashmir districts than elsewhere.

According to Ahmed, unlike north Kashmir, only 50 per cent growers in South Kashmir sell their crop to buyers in advance. “The south Kashmir grower is a progressive grower,’’ he said. Most of them are not tempted by getting advance payments. As a result, they get better value for their crop.

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Truck drivers have switched to mini taxis as the business has come to a halt. One of the drivers in the area said, “We cannot drive off the national highway. If we do, we are pelted with stones, and they take over our trucks and throw our apples on the road to rot.”

One truck driver said – ‘My owner did not allow the truck to leave for 48 days because of the fear that it might be caught in stone pelting, or, worse, our stock stolen or thrown off. 

Ever since the union government scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the state has been under a lockdown that has almost brought life in the Valley to a standstill, particularly affecting trade and commerce mainly the apple industry of Kashmir.

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